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Surgeries Free of Charge Bring Relief to Arthritis Patients

Times Staff Writer

Sore and creaky, eight arthritis sufferers were wheeled into operating rooms at Hollywood Presbyterian Medical Center on Saturday morning to receive knee and hip replacements -- on the house.

The patients had no hassles with insurance companies, nor were there squirmy visits with the hospital’s billing office.

The nonprofit Operation Walk Southern California and the hospital donated the surgeries and all associated costs, including follow-up care and physical therapy. It was the fourth annual surgery marathon for the group, which consists of doctors and healthcare providers dedicated to helping the poor deal with arthritis.

More than 30 doctors, nurses and other hospital employees worked on the surgeries, which were performed in all three of the operating suites at Hollywood Presbyterian, formerly known as Queen of Angels. Had the surgeries not been free, each would have cost between $30,000 and $70,000.

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“My wife said this is what is going to help me get through the rest of my life,” said 40-year-old Arturo Gudino of South Gate on Friday, the day before he successfully received two new knees.

Gudino has had problems with his knees for years but he has no health insurance.

He formerly worked as a sandblaster, concrete pourer and truck driver, but now, because of his weakened legs, works only occasionally as a dog groomer.

Last year, Gudino saw a newspaper ad for Operation Walk that invited people to attend a joint replacement seminar. Gudino went and was told that his knees were in terrible shape. Eventually he learned that he qualified for the free knee replacements.

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“If you live long enough you are going to wear out the joints,” said Dr. H. Michael Mynatt, associate regional medical director of the Arthritis Institute, which is contributing to the free surgeries. “The joints go faster if you get fat, they go faster if you have bad genes. Anyone will wear them out eventually.”

Operation Walk is best known in recent years for its trips abroad, where similar operations were performed for patients in Nepal, Nicaragua, China, the Philippines and Russia.

“After a couple of years someone said, ‘It’s nice for you guys to go abroad and do these things, but there are a lot of people in the United States that need this,’ ” Mynatt said.

Indeed, the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention estimates that one of three adults in the U.S. suffers from arthritis or chronic joint pain. Mynatt estimates that more than 500,000 knee and hip replacements were performed in the U.S. last year.

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A new generation of artificial hips and knees used in Saturday’s surgeries is expected to last from 30 to 40 years.


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